By Susanne Martin
Fifth generation egg farmer Peter Clarke remembers his mother telling him when he was young that she hoped he would choose a different profession. Like all parents, she wanted something better for her children “because the work was hard and the challenges were great,” he says.
Yet he didn’t take the advice and says he’s always loved what he is doing. What’s more, when his children were ready to choose a career path, his counsel was different from his mother’s.
There’s a future in egg farming, says Clarke, and he’s proud that his son and daughter-in-law are actively involved in the family farm and his daughter stays connected to agriculture through her job as a veterinarian.
Clarke – who operates an egg farm in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, and is the chairman of Egg Farmers Canada (EFC) – says that the industry’s popularity among the younger generation goes beyond his own family.
“About 30 per cent of our egg farmers are under the age of 45,” he explains. “And one in five is new to the industry.”
This trend runs contrary to overall farming statistics that show that in 2011, nearly half of farm operators were aged 55 or older, and only one in 12 were under 35.
One of the reasons younger people see egg farming as a viable career option relates to supply management, says Clarke, who calls it a unique system for managing the supply and demand for eggs, poultry and dairy products in Canada. Delivering Canadians with goods that are among the best in the world for quality and freshness, it also regulates the market and makes it a stable environment for the future generations, he says.
The celebration of EFC’s 40th anniversary in 2012 and the production of a commemorative book entitled From Farm to Plate prompted a reflection on the past, Clarke adds.
“We lost a number of people who’d been involved in our industry, including some creators of supply management, and we want to build awareness of why it was established and how vital it is for going forward,” he says, adding that the desire to share experiences with future leaders grew into EFC’s national young farmer program that started in 2014.
“We asked egg boards across the country to select young farmers with a passion for our industry to represent the provinces or territories,” Clarke says.
Twenty-year old Blake Jennings is the young farmer chosen to represent Nova Scotia, where he works alongside his father and grandfather on Bayview Poultry Farms.
Jennings says he appreciates being included in discussions about the “world of farming, such as new interests, programs, laws and regulations” that happen, for example, at the meetings of the EFC board of directors. “The young farmer program is a great system for giving us an early start in becoming successful farmers,” he adds.
For Jennings, a fifth-generation farmer, helping out on the farm has grown into a full-time occupation. With about 14,000 laying hens, Bayview Poultry Farms is not large – it’s about half the provincial average – but “lots of work goes into growing in new and different ways,” he says.
Sustainability measures are part of what sets the operation apart. The egg industry being a stable one thanks to supply management, the Jennings’ can keep improving their farming practices. By delivering to local customers only and installing three wind turbines that power the barns, the family earned the distinction of producing “eco-friendly” eggs.
Due, in part, to his involvement with EFC, Jennings had the opportunity to discuss egg farming with Prince Charles at the Halifax Seaport Market in May 2014. “We talked about different housing for hens, quality and colour of the yokes, feed and family farming,” Jennings recalls.
Bret Sloboshan, who is 18 years old, also talks enthusiastically about the egg industry. In addition to working on the family farm (Sloboshan Farms, Vanscoy, Saskatchewan) of about 62,000 layers plus broilers, she studies commerce at the University of Saskatchewan.
Participating in EFC’s young farmer program has allowed Sloboshan to “network with like-minded people, visit all types of farms and learn about new ideas and technology,” she says. It has also given her an appreciation for supply management.
“It not only allows us to supply our customers with local fresh eggs, it also gives young farmers an incentive to stay in the business,” she explains. “Getting a fair rate of return provides us opportunities to improve operations, look at efficiencies, create innovations, and support the local economy.”
No wonder Clarke is impressed with the young farmers who are part of the EFC program. He mentions “their passion, knowledge, and willingness to learn and offer their own comments on what the industry should be looking at in the near and longer term.”
The thirst for understanding the past and present will give next-generation farmers a solid foundation for shaping the future, Clarke believes.
That young people like Jennings and Sloboshan choose to go into egg farming reinforces Clarke’s view that it’s a solid career where you can earn the kind of livelihood needed for raising a family.
“These young farmers do their due diligence in regard to their choices,” he says. “When they look at the egg industry and supply management, they see opportunities. It’s something they want to be a part of.”